4 online business ideas to die for !!

The pace at which new online business models are being invented is mind-boggling. Around 6 months back, I stumbled upon a blog post by Doc Searls (co-author of Cluetrain Manifesto), in which he talks about a new trend called “Intention economy” and the next thing I get to know is someone has already launched a start-up (Readbeacon) based on the idea…such is the pace. While Doc Searls is leading an initiative called VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) at Harvard Law School to research and explore future possibilities of this emerging trend, the folks at RedBeacon are already experimenting with the idea in real life. Same is the case with many other ideas. For instance, semantic web is generally looked upon as an idea which is much ahead of its time (see this and this to know how people have played it down); but the truth is there are already over 2 dozen very successful start-ups that have made millions based on the idea.


There are hundreds or probably thousands of crazy? people sitting behind their PCs (literally 24/7) religiously following thought leaders like  Tim Berners Lee and Clay Shirky. The moment these people hear something interesting or promising, the  next thing you know is, they have already launched a startup with the idea. Reminds me of an Alice in the wonderland saying –"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!". These new generation entrepreneurs are certainly living up to the saying. There’s one more thing that’s common among some of these people though – it’s their pedigree. Look at the owners of two of the following killer start-ups - one is the grandson of Peter Drucker and the other one is the son of comSource founder!

Alright, so, let’s see what these killer online ideas are:

Milo.com (Find it local, Get it now)
According to Milo, e-commerce currently accounts for only 5% of US retail sales and 87% of shoppers do research online before making offline purchases. Milo also found out that “research online buy offline” is estimated to be a $1 trillion market by 2011, which means online research will impact 40% of total US retail sales by 2011. What an amazing business opportunity!! And what an exciting time to start a company like Milo to cash this opportunity. So, what does Milo do?  Well, Milo.com enables shoppers to research products online and buy local. It tracks the real-time availability and prices of more than two million products at over 50,000 stores across the U.S. By combining the detailed product information and user reviews available online with the immediate and tangible benefits of shopping in local stores, Milo.com provides the best of both worlds and makes it easy for shoppers to research the best products, find the right prices and check where products are available near them.

Trivia – Milo.com’s founder is Jack Abraham, son of comScore founder Magid Abraham. Jack helped his father write code for websites before he was old enough to shave!!

RedBeacon (Whatever you need. Done.)
Redbeacon is based on an idea called VRM (Intention economy), a term that was first coined by Doc Searls in an article for Linux Journal - "The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don't need advertising to make them." (Remember Priceline??). Doc Searls says Readbeacon is more like a fourth party of VRM ecosystem. (btw, the four party system article on VRM blog is a must read). To know more about what Doc Searls has to say on Redbeacon, see this link.

So what does Redbeacon do? Well, Users go to Redbeacon and search for real world service providers (housekeepers, plumbers, handyman, personal trainers, etc.). The service sends you firm quotes from local service providers, based on price and other factors, such as previous reviews and expertise with the specific job you want done. You can book an appointment online, and Redbeacon takes a 10% fee from the service provider. RedBeacon also employees natural language processing so it can figure out exactly what you’re looking for (for example, “Cupcake maker” would search for any bakers in the area).

Techcrunch describes the business opportunity behind Redbeacon as – “The web is loaded with sites offering listings and reviews for local services, with mainstays like Yelp and Craigslist leading the pack. But when it comes to actually executing a transaction with one of these service providers — establishing details like establishing a price and timing — most people still turn to their phone books to call the service.” This is exactly the need that Redbeacon fulfils.

Evri (Search less. Understand more.)
Evri is described as one of the most promising Semantic Web company. In 2008, Nova Spivack (semantic web enthusiast who also happens to be a grandson of Peter Drucker), launched a semantic web start-up called Twine, which was described as an “artificially intelligent personal web assistant”. Twine was acquired by Evri in March this year and was renamed as Evri.

So what does Evri/Twine do? Well, Evri tries to replace the need for search engines by suggesting that users explore how entities are connected to each other. You really have to try it once to see how powerful it is. Trust me, you’ll actually start hating Google search once you get a hang of what semantic search can do and Evri is supposedly the best semantic search engine. Also, if futuristic web ideas get you high, you must subscribe to Nova’s blog “Minding the Planet”.

Redbox (Find a movie, find a Redbox)
Redbox is described as the next revolutionary step in DVD rental (and who knows maybe it’s a prelude to what’s coming next in retail in general). It is an American company that specializes in the vending of rental of DVDs via self-service/interactive kiosks. If you come to think about it, it was an idea waiting to be discovered. Why do you need a large store like blockbuster to rent a DVD and why would people wait for 2-3 days to get a movie from netflix (the desire to watch a movie is quite impulsive, see research here). Redbox solves both these problems in one shot. Amazing!!. Customers can also reserve DVDs online, made possible by real-time inventory updates on the company's website. Check this post by Dave Taylor, in which he talks about Redbox and explores some interesting futuristic ideas about Redbox producing self-destructing DVDs, so that users wouldn’t have to bother returning DVDs.

Links:
·          The Father of All Business Models - http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2010/01/06/the-father-of-all-business-models/

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